In the world of Trumpian propaganda, any news event falls into one of three categories. The first, and most common, is We Are Winning. (Common examples: the stock market, economy, any diplomatic agreement or use of military force). If the event is undeniably negative, it is a Hoax, being perpetrated upon him by some combination of the Crooked Media, Deep State, or Do-Nothing Democrats.
Trump has attempted to wedge the novel coronavirus into both these frames, alternately assuring the public he has brilliantly contained the disease and complaining that his enemies are using the Hoax to discredit him. But when neither of these approaches fully resolves the problem, Trump resorts to the third category: Obama’s Fault.
Trump is amplifying a message that has been circulating in right-wing media for a few days. One blogger has blamed decisions by an “Obama holdover.” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared on Lou Dobbs’s program and blamed “an Obama-era FDA requirement that required that any lab-developed test be approved by the FDA.”
CNN attempted to figure out what Obama requirement Trump is talking about, and came up empty. An aide to Republican Senator Lamar Alexander explained that Obama had proposed giving the FDA more oversight over diagnostic testing, but that did not go through.
At his remarks today, Mike Pence boasted that he had rescinded this regulation on Saturday. Even taken at face value, this raises the question why the administration didn’t act earlier. After all, if there was an Obama decision that was hampering the government’s response, and Trump had it in his power to rescind it all along, why wait until the virus has already started spreading domestically?
Obama of course did face a massive global outbreak in 2014, which his administration competently handled even as Republicans in general and Trump in particular spread hysteria. Then Trump took office and dismantled the scientific and public health team that had contained the outbreak.
At his same remarks, Trump boasted, “I haven’t touched my face in weeks.” He seemed not to realize that he has appeared on camera many times during that period, sometimes touching his face:
Maybe that finger is a holdover from the Obama administration.
This post has been updated.